HPA V222 HEAD AMP FROM VIOLECTRIC
29th January 2024
Able to handle single-ended and balanced inputs and outputs, Paul Rigby listens in to this compact headphone amplifier
Recently, a German Class A amplifier made a guest appearance on this site for the Gjallahorn power amplifier. Well, we maintain that Teutonic vibe with another German company. This time Violectric. The very first time I’ve ever grabbed a product from this outfit.
This is a compact balanced head amp with single-ended connections thrown in for good measure. Wrapped in an aluminium chassis, it spans 170 x 65 x 252mm.
There’s attention to detail with this one. Pushed along via a a toroidal transformer, the unit offers four symmetrical amplifier stages at the output stage, two for single-ended mode and four for balanced mode. Its power handling means that it can easily cope with a wide range of headphones matching just about any impedance figure you throw at it.
Looking at the front fascia, on the left you have an ALPS RK27 volume pot, a toggle switch for single-ended and balanced modes plus outputs for 6.35mm single ended, 4-pin XLR and Pentaconn sockets. The right hand side provides a push-power button plus indicator light.
FLIP TO THE REAR
On the rear left is an IEC power socket, XLR inputs, single-ended inputs and a range of DIP switches to select, as the company has it, pre-gain. Which sounds like a misnomer to me. Think of the DIP switches as providing either gain boost or gain deficit from a high of +18db down to +12db, +6db, -6db, -12db and -18db. Useful for different headphone or earphone designs.
The best way to get this gain boost or deficit? Select and listen and tweak and listen until you find the setting for you. Use your ears, in other words.
I understand that DIP switches lower costs but, at this price point, I would have preferred to have had either a toggle switch or switches or a rotary selector knob to do the gain alterations.
I suppose I should be grateful though the these DIP switches were not hidden underneath the chassis. Small mercies, eh?
I began with vinyl and one of the odder records in my collection, Serge Gainsbourg’s highly satirical Rock Around the Bunker, which reflected his time in occupied France as a child. Released in 1975, this psuedo-lounge, bubble-gum 50s pop outing was – rather intriguingly – infused with the cream of UK session men. People like Alan Hawkshaw, Alan Parker and Jim Lawless. Even Clare ‘Pink Floyd’ Torry was involved.
I played Zig Zag Avec Toi and brought in my similar-priced Icon Audio HP8 MK.II valve-based head amp as a reference alongside my Sennheiser HD 800 headphones with a 6.3mm single-ended termination and noted how solid state the HPA V222 sounded. There was none of the soft, open and delicate tones of the Icon Audio valves here. No surprise, sure, but its worth stating that fact. The HPA V222 offered a generally if not exactly balanced output because it leant slightly towards a higher frequency emphasis.
In fact, those who like a more forceful presentation will love the HPA V222. The HPA V222 offered a slightly a harder edge on the very limits of the upper midrange and a slightly forced treble response. It gave the sound a slightly tougher personality to the delivery alongside a more impactful bass response.
In short? The sound was…fine. Nothing amazing but certainly passable.
I then switched to Pentaconn and the Sennheiser HD 660 S headphones. Via the Pentaconn socket, the sound retained a slight hardness around the upper midrange but, across the rest of the soundstage, the frequencies were softened, bass was fattened a touch with extra weight while treble lost a little of its clarity. Being slightly rolled off.
So far then, the sound output from the HPA V222 was no more than satisfactory.
I tried a different tack. Unplugging the single-ended cables from the HPA V222 and instead, connecting balanced cables to it and my pre-amp. I then tried my single-ended 800 headphones again, but this time backed by a balanced signal. Now this was more like it! The soundstage opened up, the noise floor dropped, a new level of clarity entered the fray.
Treble offered more fragility now, a tambourine could be tracked by the ear but there was a slight edge still to the upper mids. So I went even further.
I felt that outputting a single-ended pair of headphones on the end of a balanced signal was a little crippling in sonic terms so I shifted to the balanced Pentaconn output and the 600 S headphones.
This was the best offering of all the options thus far. The fully balanced chain produced a more even-handed performance. The 600 S design added a slight bass emphasis so the bass guitar was quite forceful and percussion had an effective impact but there was enough detail from the upper mids and treble to engage a tapping toe or two.
Sure, you don’t get the delicacy and fragility of the upper mids that my valve reference provides but that was to be expected, considering I was listening to an essentially solid state design via Violectric.
I almost forgot to mention a CD test and Pink Floyd’s The Wall which the HPA V222 just loved. That is, the HPA V222 lapped up rock authority. It adored mighty drum strikes, positively worshipped power chords and screaming vocals. It bathed in heavy bass lines. It drank the blood of ripping guitar solos.
And I have to say, I ramped up the volume during such moments and air-guitared David Gilmour all over my listening room.
The HPA V222 was the epitome of epic during high-energy rock. If the HPA V222 could have climbed on my shoulders stretched out its arms in the air, peace signs flying to and fro, it would. Oh it would.
Via dynamic and high-energy music, the HPA V222 gave a greater sense of solidity and power from the lower frequencies. Bass was dominant and weighty while cymbal taps reminded you more that these things were made from heavy pieces of metal. That’s the sound that replaced the former fragility and delicacy from my valve reference.
So what I’m talking about here is personal choice and musical choice? If you want fragility from your favourite singer-songwriter, classical scores and jazz quartets. Then look elsewhere. But. But. If you like a sense of weight and power and impact in your music, the HPA V222 will give you that and in spades and the two of you will live happily ever after.
VIOLECTRIC HPA V222
GOOD: balanced inputs and output, Pentaconn output, compact design, overall balanced sound
BAD: gain operation, overall single-ended sound
Single Ended Mode
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